During the recruiting process, student-athletes must make two realistic assessments: their level of athletic talent and college coaches' degree of interest.
Knowing how you stack up against current college competition and other potential recruits helps you realistically determine where you have a chance to play; interpreting a coach's actions and words helps you judge the seriousness of his or her interest in recruiting you.
Be realistic about your athletic abilities when gauging your college playing potential. Ask yourself:
- How have I performed with or against top talent in elite events (e.g., showcases, tournaments, meets and state or national championships)? Did I stand out or garner any awards?
- Have I claimed any impressive honors, awards or recognition (e.g., All-State, All-City, team MVP or captain)? A sought-after recruit will boast an inventory of such accolades.
- Do I play in competitive summer or club leagues? Doing so is a highly marketable recruiting fact, because these leagues are typically packed with blue-chip talent.
Compare your self-evaluation against college competition. Researching a school's sports media guide and website will inform you about player profiles: position, height, weight and athletic highlights. This helps you understand the level of talent the school recruits and may reveal whether the team has unmet needs at your position. In football, as many as half a dozen strings can separate a player from the limelight, so if a team is loaded with young starters and talent, you might be better off pursuing another school, one that has a greater need at your position.
"Recruiting is a year-round process," says Dom Starsia, head coach for men's lacrosse at the University of Virginia. "It just never stops. We've got our work cut out for us."
Starsia says not a day goes by when recruiting isn't on his mind. With a busy coaching schedule, games, travel and evaluating potential recruits, if a coach takes time to attend your practice or game, you've piqued his interest. If he watches you in action more than once, you're a serious target. On the other hand, if you simply receive general mail from the athletic department, your name is probably not too high on the coach's wish list.
Use the following indicators to realistically assess a coach's degree of interest in you.
- Sends a questionnaire, form letter, recruiting brochure and summer camp application
- Sends a generic email
- Speaks with your high school or club coach
- Attends a practice or game
- Sends emails regularly
- Mails a media guide and admissions packet
- Sends regular updates about the team's accomplishments
- Calls on the NCAA's first permissible date (after July 1 following completion of your junior year)
- Watches you play multiple times and offers feedback
- Details how many recruits are on his list and where you rank among them
- Constantly sets up phone calls
- Extends an invitation for an official visit
- Visits your house and meets your family
- Offers you a scholarship
Using Interest as Leverage
Take control of the recruiting process with leverage. If you've received multiple scholarship offers or have other financial assistance on the table, make that clear to the college coaches who are pursuing you. This gives you an advantage by boosting your perceived value as a recruit.
The key to leverage is networking, and it starts early in the recruiting process. Contact a large number of schools (50 is a good starting point) in all divisions. Your networking efforts will help you develop and build relationships with college coaches.
As you progress through the recruiting process, continue to reach out to new coaches while staying in contact (via phone calls, letters, e-mails) with the programs that show interest. Schedule visits, invite coaches to games, and keep them updated on your latest achievements. Every relationship, contact and scholarship offer improves your bargaining position.
Don't pass up any opportunity to gain leverage. For instance, if a coach asks what other programs are recruiting you, let him know, without boasting, about programs that are comparable to, a rival of or better than his.
If coach asks whether you've received scholarship offers, let him know in general terms about other aid packages you are considering.
The more options you have, the greater your leverage. If you have limited choices, the coach gains leverage, since he has fewer competitors. You could even be left out of his recruiting plans.
Be completely honest throughout the process. Presenting yourself truthfully and leveraging your options will ultimately help you pull in the scholarship offer of your choice.
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